Irene isn’t used to being employed, at least not in the strictest sense. With clients, it’s different: she’s a specialist, not an employee; an expert invited to examine, devise, and deliver. Under Moriarty, there is none of this—under Moriarty, she is a blunt instrument. Needle is the word he chooses: needle. Needling is something Irene can do, but slowly, and carefully, and with finesse. Moriarty says needle, but what he means is knife. It is not, of course, that Irene can’t knife; only that with Sherlock, she finds there’s more pleasure in needling.
“I’ll do this my way,” she tells Moriarty, when they first meet in person, bubbled by the bodies of King’s Cross commuters.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Moriarty corrects. “I don’t think you will. I know about your ways, Miss Adler, and they’re not quite to my tastes.” Irene watches him check his watch, come a step closer. “Sherlock Holmes is my prey. Do you understand that?”
“I understand.” She does. Moriarty smiles a little wider. There is something that radiates off him, at all times, but especially here, as he stands less than a foot away from her: power. He watches her watching him, and she can see him recognize and consider, playfully, all the thoughts that have crossed her mind in this instant: what he wants, how to give it to him, how to take it away. Thoughts that always cross her mind when meeting men of power; thoughts that find no answers for him.
“It’s not that I’m not amenable, Miss Adler.” His tone leaves her no doubt. “It’s just that I don’t have the time right now to go through the motions, so let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?” He throws an arm around her shoulder, thumbs painfully gently at her collarbone. “You will not break me. Not with anything you can devise, or any amount of time. So please…abandon the notion. Let me be your guide.”
He moves his hand, carefully, from her neck to the small of her back: a man holding onto his wife, awaiting a distant relative's arrival by train. “Otherwise, I think you’ll find yourself fairly breakable. Your fingers, your wrist. Your neck. Believe me, these things break. If I have to, I will split open your spine, Irene, and I won’t even get anything as pedestrian as enjoyment from it. Don’t doubt it for a moment.”
“Your way,” Irene identifies, and she can’t remember the last time she had trouble breathing like this.
“Yes,” Moriarty smiles. He lets go of her and she goes stiff despite herself, well-practiced grace washed cold with terror. This is something she has not felt in some time. “So. Are we clear, Miss Adler?”
Irene knows he’s only repeating this for her benefit: speaking her language. Orders, agreements. Explicit, always, in more ways than one.
Is this how it feels? She has a sudden urge to surrender; hungers after it in a way that is blindsiding. And so if Moriarty will turn her into a blunt instrument, a blunt instrument she will be. Irene knows the operation of this pact well enough; trusts its exchange, the safety of its imbalances. Still: the headiness of it, she does not expect, though perhaps she should: an ordinary reaction to power for a psyche so well-attuned to it. It is difficult to pedal something without coming to believe in it.
So Irene becomes an employee: takes calls, sends routine updates, and makes sure her way always fits reasonably into his way. She is still a specialist, in a way—Moriarty couldn’t do this, touch Sherlock’s cheekbone like this, call him beautiful and mean it—but she is now something bigger: beholden. She needles until she’s told to knife, and when she does, there’s some pleasure in that too, because discipline can be appreciated, and Irene is nothing if not meticulous. She starts to love Sherlock, a little, because she can read between the lines of orders, too, and she has no illusions about what Moriarty means by knife and burn, and he’s said both. So it’s no surprise, either, when Irene is outplayed and winds up defenceless. This is the burn; this, the knife: the grainy image of her head, separated from its body; and the flatness in Sherlock’s eyes when he looks at it. A long play or plan B, it matters little: the end is the end, and her relief when Sherlock intervenes is genuine. Thwarted on both counts, then; Irene is a broken tool, indeed. But she lives, and life takes her elsewhere, and she thinks of Moriarty only in her idler moments. She doesn’t wait, exactly, but she knows: any end is loose that isn’t still in play. And people like Moriarty always find uses for broken tools.